Today’s Awesome Author is thriller/mystery writer Peg Brantley. I met Peg while swimming around in the Guppies (Great Unpublished) pond of the writers group Sisters in Crime and have heard great things about her work. She currently has 3 novels out: Red Tide, The Missings, and The Sacrifice. Glowing comments on her work include, “engaging characters,” “grabs you from the first page,” and “a definite page turner.” Hmmm. Sounds like an author to put on my TBR list… 😀
Bio (from the author): A Colorado native, Peg Brantley is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Authors’ League, and Sisters In Crime. She lives with her husband southeast of Denver. Peg’s third book, The Sacrifice, is a finalist for two 2014 Colorado literary awards.
DV: Welcome, Peg! Please tell us about yourself and your latest release.
PB: This is where I wish I could tell you about my fabulous past—reveal something notorious or incredibly brave. The truth is I’m only mildly interesting and that could be a stretch.
THE SACRIFICE was released at the end of 2013. I’ve had more than one reviewer say they were surprised they liked the book based on the back cover copy. Obviously that’s not where my strength lies. TS is about a man who lost his family and is working through associated depression, and a missing young girl and the religious cult she thinks of as her new family.
THE SACRIFICE was a finalist in one Colorado literary award presented last month, and a second literary award to be presented a few days before this blog post airs. I wrote a guest post at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog about what it felt like to lose.
DV: The novels you currently have available are stand-alone thrillers, correct? Have you considered writing a series?
PB: Well, bless your heart for asking. (No, I’m not from the south, but this really works here.)
Due to reader’s requests (and because it’s really easy to do) RED TIDE and THE MISSINGS will be turned into the first two stories of a series set in Aspen Falls, Colorado. There was some carry-over of the characters between the books and I’m excited to spend more time with them.
And as luck would have it, readers (and a particular endorser) for THE SACRIFICE have encouraged me to continue the series with the characters I developed in those pages.
My goal will be to continue to write each novel as a stand-alone, with the added strength of a series and longer character development opportunities.
My challenge will be to write faster. Two series? Are you kidding me?
DV: LOL. Yeah, I know the feeling 🙂 When did you realize you were a writer?
PB: I think at some level I’ve always been a writer. But life and responsibilities made me more of a reader for a very long time. About ten years ago, family circumstances played a huge role in affording me both the time and opportunity to begin to learn the craft of writing when my bonus son suffered a stroke at a very young age. After we moved him back home for his recovery, I finally had the time to explore my writing options.
“After about eight years, I had blown my way through some horrible manuscripts and was finally beginning to produce something worth reading.”
DV: What was your road to indie publication like?
PB: My road was probably not too different from many others. Several years ago, indie or self-publication was not on the table for me. Vanity publishing, as much of it was at that time, had a horrible reputation for producing inferior products. I was determined to find an agent I could work well with and a publisher happy to take a chance on an unknown.
I took workshops, read books about writing, went to writer conferences, joined a critique group—all of those things we do to learn how to string together effective words.
After about eight years, I had blown my way through some horrible manuscripts and was finally beginning to produce something worth reading. That’s when a friend of mine, L.J. Sellers, encouraged me to jump in the game rather than to continue to sit on the sidelines like a good girl and wait. With her help, I learned the right way to put together a novel people enjoy.
DV: What is your process like? Do you write every day? Have a specific word count? Plotter or pantser?
PB: As much as I’d love to write every day, my life often has other things in store. However, yesterday while I was in the chair at my dentist’s office I was considering a character and particular plot-point in the manuscript I’m writing. I guess in a way, I do write every day.
While I’m neither a plotter or a pantser, I do have to have a plan in mind. Crime fiction doesn’t leave a lot of room for going off the rails. For me, it’s a lot like taking a road trip. I know where my story is beginning and I have a good idea where it will end, with some planned stops along the way. What I do allow, just as on a road trip, are those little spur of the moment side trips. If they’re interesting and fit the flavor of the trip, I’ll explore them a little more. If they’re to some place boring and potentially confusing, I’m outta there.
If you’re interested in a little more detail, I wrote a post about it on my blog.
DV: Do you find you work better with or without deadlines?
PB: Deadlines, definitely. But deadlines I set. I work backward from a targeted publication date, including time for self-editing, beta readers, professional editing, endorsements, and cover and interior design. From there, I know when I need to have the first draft completed and how many words a day I need to write to meet the deadline.
“Next up on my list is to attend an autopsy.”
DV: How much research do you do when writing your books?
A lot! I’ve often thought being a fantasy or science fiction writer would be heaven. Not only are you making the story completely up, but you’re making everything about the world up as well. Everything.
I use Google, reference books, contacts and friendships. I’ve attended the Writers Police Academy and the Citizen Police Academy for my city. Next up on my list is to attend an autopsy.
DV: Which writers have influenced you and why?
PB: Oh, my. One of the things I admire about L.J. Sellers’s books is that she often takes a topical social issue and works it into the story. I’ve tried to do the same. Her writing is tight and spare while still providing just the right amount of description and emotion.
Dean Koontz can extend tension with fabulous skill, as well as say volumes in as few as eight words. The right eight words.
Michael Connelly builds layers and layers of character and drops them into some of the best plots ever.
DV: In light of the huge changes in the industry, where do you think publishing is headed?
PB: I think that for the first time in the history of publishing, it’s headed exactly where readers want it to go. Readers are in the driver’s seat, not publishing company CFOs.
Readers, with their new power, recognized rather quickly that they could find some wonderful new authors for very little financial investment, and scoffed at the old publishing models. Having said that, I believe they are rapidly tiring of some of the mindless slush pile garbage “authors” are throwing out simply to see what sticks, and can appreciate that the old publishing models took care of that gigantic pile that’s now available to everyone. Still, the cream will rise to the top as it always has, but this time, readers are in charge.
“I think that for the first time in the history of publishing, [publishing is] headed exactly where readers want it to go.”
DV: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
PB: I hope I’m still doing what I love—writing stories. But I’ll be thinner I’m sure. And better dressed.
DV: 😀 What advice would you give to new writers?
PB: If you can, find a good writers group and learn from them. Attend writer conferences, read books on craft. Treat this time as your college education.
It’s okay to write a story that needs work. We all do. It’s not okay to publish a story that needs work, at least if you want to make writing a career.
Read the books you love to read like crazy and then write and write and write some more.
Don’t quit. It’s only if you quit that you fail.
DV: What’s next for Peg Brantley?
PB: FLAME GAME will be out in late October (with a little luck) and then I’ll begin getting my characters in THE SACRIFICE in deep trouble once again.
Thanks, D.V., for allowing me to spend a little time with you and your readers. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
DV: Thank you for stopping by, Peg! I’ll definitely be checking out your books. They sound like they’re right up my alley 🙂 (For more information about Peg and her work, I’ve included links at the end of the post.)
Below is an excerpt from THE SACRIFICE:
Dia woke with a start and listened hard. She’d heard a noise. Where had it come from? What was it? There. A thump and voices. Outside. She pushed the light blanket off, pushed aside the mosquito netting and stepped to look out the window.
Pilar, Luis, and Hector were swaying and chanting. Sparks from the fire they stood around flew off into the night. What were they doing? If this was a Santeria ritual Dia wanted to be there.
Where did she leave her shoes? Come on, Dia, she thought. You would think in this small room she wouldn’t lose anything. She dug around in her clothes bag. Nothing. Maybe if she stood on the deck it would be okay. She wouldn’t need shoes if she didn’t go down by the fire.
Dia padded barefoot to the door that led from the main area to the back deck and eased the screen open. She tried to be quiet, not because she was trying to be sneaky, but because she didn’t want to interrupt a religious ritual. Softly closing the door behind her, she moved to the edge of the deck where she could more clearly see and hear what was going on.
It was a ritual all right. But the words were different from any she’d ever heard before. She’d have to ask Pilar what they meant.
Luis held something in his hand and raised it over his head. Dia gasped out loud when she realized it was a dead rooster. The man spun in her direction, the firelight carving angry lines in his face as he looked at her.
“You! Leave at once!” The venom of the words stung Dia and pushed her back from the deck rail. She knew Luis had mostly just put up with her, but now he sounded like he hated her. She sought Pilar. Their eyes met and Dia could not understand the expression on her nanny-turned-friend’s face. Then Dia dropped her gaze down to what Pilar held in her hands.